By David G. Firestone
There are two big changes coming to the NHRA in 2016. The first change is the engine and wheelie bar changes to Pro Stock cars, but I’ll get to that at a later date. The other change hasn’t been discussed at all, and I see nothing but good things with this. After this season, The NHRA will leave ESPN and move to Fox Sports with their television contract. The president of the NHRA called it a “game changer.” and I agree.
To anyone who sees this as a bad thing, let me make this clear…ESPN HATES auto racing. When NASCAR was with ESPN, they were always the second fiddle. ESPN would move coverage to ESPN Classic, or ESPN news if another live sporting event took precedent over NASCAR. With the current television deals with Fox and NBC, this isn’t an option. Races are covered flag to flag, with no interruptions. Why is this important? Well let’s look at the 2014 Bank Of America 500 at Charlotte. This was a Chase Race, the second round of the Contender round, and the first 25 laps were sent to ESPN News because a Baylor/TCU football game ran long. This sent many fans into rage mode, and rightfully so. With the Fox Sports/NBC Sports setup, this won’t happen.
NASCAR’s fans and sponsors are sick of ESPN’s bullshit and the first chance they had to bail, they took. The sad thing is that unlike TNT, ESPN had a great crew they were working with. I hated the nonsense in moving the race because of another game, but at least the broadcast team was made up of a group of good reporters and broadcasters. NASCAR justifiably felt that their brand was being shit upon by ESPN, plain and simple. NASCAR won’t say that, but that is what they are thinking.
ESPN even proved my point about the NHRA for me with Sunday Night’s telecast. The start of the taped telecast was delayed by 57 minutes because a Little League game ran long. Are you kidding me? You are going to delay the start of a nationally sanctioned racing event that draws hundreds of thousands of viewers, and 20,000 fans to the track for a bunch of kids playing baseball? I guarantee you that there were more fans in hospitality tents at Seattle’s race than there were in attendance at the Little League game.
ESPN has proved to the racing community that they do not care at all about auto racing sanctioning bodies, sponsors or fans. In turn, ESPN is now losing contracts, some of which they have had for decades because better deals and better coverage is now a real factor. I’m not going to miss having to sit through Little League, Crossfit, or Baseball Tonight waiting for the NHRA to start, and I don’t think any of you will either.